How to hire an accessory dwelling designer in California
Now that Californians can build up to two accessory dwellings on their property, ADUs are becoming even more popular.
If you’re ready to start an ADU project, you’ve most likely got a plan for your new unit. Maybe you’re going to earn thousands of dollars a month in rental income. Maybe you plan to bring your family members to live with you. Maybe you want a versatile unit that can do both.
You’ve also likely researched costs. (If not, you can do that with New Avenue’s system; it’s free to create an account and browse real projects.)
Ready to move on to the next step? It’s time to choose an accessory dwelling designer.
Should you buy a pre-made plan for your ADU or get a custom design?
Some designers sell their plans. If you find one that you love, it can work for you. However, be aware that after you buy the plans, you’ll still need a professional designer.
Even complete plans need to be customized. Your state, city, and lot are unique. You may also want a few changes to suit your lifestyle. You’ll need to hire a professional designer or architect to handle the design changes.
Should you hire an independent designer or an ADU company?
There are independent designers who will create a design for you. They may also help with getting permits and introduce you to a general contractor. To find the right designer, you can search online or ask around for recommendations.
If you’d like help finding a quality designer, talk with a design and construction company like New Avenue Homes. New Avenue has a network of vetted, experienced professionals and will introduce you to a designer that’s ideal for your job. (Plus, when it’s time for construction, you can take advantage of that network to hire the right contractors and the best project manager. You’ll also be able to manage every aspect of your project in one place.)
Meeting with your ADU designer
Once you have a candidate, ask for a meeting so you can see their portfolio and discuss your project. The designer may charge for this initial meeting. If they do, you should come away with something useful such as the designer’s professional recommendations and an understanding of the permitting process.
A word of advice: Get a full design proposal, not a free estimate. That will give you accurate design costs and an opportunity to make sure your designer is a good fit.
How do you know if your designer or architect is the best one to design your ADU?
Obviously, you can’t hire a designer that’s not the right fit. Here are some things to think about in choosing the right architect or designer.
- Experience. Make sure your designer has experience working in your area. City offices can be hard to navigate, so you’ll need someone who really knows both city and state law. (Here’s an example of why.)
- Connection. You should feel comfortable talking to your designer or architect. After all, you’ll be spending a lot of time working together, and an ADU is a deeply personal project. There has to be a connection. If you don’t click well with your designer, they won’t get your design right.
- Goals. When you talk with your designer, you’ll discover whether their goals align with yours. If you want extreme energy efficiency, find out how the designer can make that happen. If you need to store a lot of things in a small area, ask the designer how they’ll make full use of the space. Whatever your goal, your designer should want to help you in every way possible. A full design proposal meeting will help you determine whether your designer wants the same things you do.
- Products. Ask what the designer will deliver and what their policy on revisions is.
Once you’ve met with your candidate and received a full design proposal, you can decide whether to proceed.
What about contracts?
Your designer should provide a contract that protects both you and the designer. Be sure to read through it all and take some time to understand it.
Design and construction firms often have standard contracts that they use for all their clients. New Avenue’s contract has been used hundreds of times with zero problems.
What will your ADU designer do?
Your designer will create a design that suits your needs, your property, and the local and state regulations. They’ll help you select materials (such as countertops, flooring, roofing, windows, etc.) that suit your budget and tastes. If you’ve hired your designer to deal with the city permitting office, they’ll get all the necessary permits as well. They may also introduce you to the various contractors and engineers you’ll need.
How does billing work?
Most architects and designers bill an hourly rate. They’ll send you invoices as agreed upon in the contract.
If your designer works through New Avenue’s system, you can use that system to communicate with the entire team throughout the project. All billing and payments go through your project page, so it’s easy to keep track of every aspect of the project and every team member.
What comes after design?
Once the permits and design documents are in place, construction can begin. This is primarily the domain of your general contractor, but your designer may still be involved to address changes and city requirements.
Your relationship with your accessory dwelling designer or architect is critical to the success of your project. You’ll be working with this person for a long time, so it’s important to get someone you can connect with. Just as important is your ADU designer’s expertise. Experience, knowledge, and a true passion for helping people make a world of difference.
Want to talk to a pro?
Just tell us when to call. Our expert project manager will talk to you about your property’s potential and answer all your questions.